The first time Pat Hall visited Benicia 26 years ago, she fell in love with the city. Having grown up in Orange County, she was startled when a public transit bus slowed down to let her cross the street. “People were so welcoming, and so eager to share stories about the town’s rich history,” she recalls. As it turned out, Benicia was the ideal place for this art school graduate to set down roots.

Although she moved to Vallejo some years ago, she remains a beloved art teacher at Benicia Middle School. Ms. Hall teaches drawing, painting, sculpture and stagecraft—the art of building sets—for the advanced drama program. “Often times students feel like they need to already be good when they come to my class,” says Ms. Hall. “That’s the first thing I work on with them. Everyone is a beginner, no matter how old they are. It’s like learning guitar, it takes practice.”

Creating a safe place for students, Ms. Hall keeps her classroom open during lunch period—and it’s always full. She’s also the coordinator of the Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program that trains one hundred 8th graders to mentor incoming 6th graders for the entire year. “These mentors could be the ones who change a life forever,” she says.

Equally important, says Ms. Hall, is the opportunity for visual art students to showcase their work. Each year she enters student work in the Solano County Office of Education Art Faire, and for six of the eight years they’ve entered, her students have won Best of Show. 

Her efforts to engage her students in community shows led her to Arts Benicia where she helped revitalize the Next Generation exhibit for K-12 student work. She later served as a board member and chair of the Adult Education Committee, with the goal of creating “less intimidating” beginning art classes for adults. Now she teaches for the EcoArt Summer Camps for kids, and is a key volunteer for the annual art auction in September.

Pat earned her BA in Art (and also a BA in Communications) from Cal State Long Beach, but she didn’t always have confidence in her artwork. So, as she advises her students, she practiced and overcame her fears. Soon she was commissioned to draw portraits, and then she started playing with texture and humor, mixing images with new meanings. She describes her current work as “realistic with a twist,” and it’s been exhibited at Arts Benicia, Falkirk Cultural Center, Sebastopol Art Center and other regional shows.

About her art, she says: “The middle school job opened me to all of this. When I stopped playing it safe, and did what pleased me, that’s when I started selling my work. Never in my wildest life would I have imagined that.”